1.Monsanto tastes defeat
2.Monsanto Monopoly Nixed in Munich
1.Monsanto tastes defeat
GristMill, 8 May 2007
Monsanto has barreled its way toward dominance over the global seed market with strong-arm tactics and friends in high places.
As evidence of the former, the roguish company once threatened to sue me -- then a neophyte blogger with 30 readers -- on the most trivial grounds possible. As for the latter, software monopolist Bill Gates, evidently impressed with the way Monsanto tosses around its market girth, has tapped a former Monsanto exec to help lead his foundation's "Green Revolution" in Africa.
The company wins plenty of battles, but it loses sometimes, too. In fact, it suffered two bitter defeats last week.
Last Thursday, a U.S. district judge upheld a ban on new plantings of a genetically modified alfalfa variety that's designed to withstand copious lashings of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
Alfalfa is grown nationwide as a perennial fodder crop for livestock. If so-called Roundup Ready alfalfa becomes ubiquitous, farmers would be encouraged to dump huge quantities of Roundup on pastures -- a direct attack on plant biodiversity. Worse, it could create "superweeds" resistant to Roundup -- at best conjuring up the need for a new and even more fierce herbicide than Roundup, at worst creating an invasive weed that could take over pastures and other fields.
The decision delivers a firm rebuke to the USDA and its matador style of vetting applications for new GMO seed varieties. According to Reuters, the same judge responsible for Thursday's ruling:
... had issued a preliminary injunction in March, ruling U.S. regulators improperly allowed the commercialization of the biotech alfalfa without a thorough examination of its effects. That marked the first time a federal court overturned USDA approval of a biotech seed and halted planting, according to the Center for Food Safety.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, Monsanto was getting clobbered by a Munich judge, who struck down the giant's continent-wide patent on GM soybeans.
Hope Shand of the formidable ETC Group previewed the case on Gristmill last week.
It's worth reading ETC's report on the ruling in its entirety. The group says that although the patent was due to expire soon anyway, the rejection forms a useful precedent in fighting the seed giant's attempts to declare ownership over huge swaths of the world's agricultural genetic heritage.
On Wall Street, Monsanto's share price has managed to shake off these setbacks, continuing its meteoric rise.
Why? These defeats are puny compared to the company's long string of easy regulatory victories. Roundup Ready alfalfa may be out of commission for a while -- though Reuters reports that 220,000 acres of it have already been planted -- but Roundup Ready corn and soy are rampant in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere, and the biofuel craze is only ramping up demand.
2. REVOKED!! Monsanto Monopoly Nixed in Munich but little joy in foiling soy ploy at this late date
3 May 2007
Munich The European Patent Office today put the brakes on Monsanto’s over-the-top corporate greed by revoking its species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans (EP0301749) a patent unprecedented in its broad scope. ETC Group, an international civil society organization based in Canada, won its 13-year legal challenge against Monsanto’s species-wide soybean patent when an EPO appeal board ruled that the patent was not new or sufficient (i.e., the invention claimed was not sufficiently described for a skilled person to repeat it). The patent challenge was supported by Greenpeace and "No Patents on Life!" Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of UK-based EcoNexus also joined the opposition team in Munich as a scientific expert.
The patent was vigorously and formally opposed by Monsanto itself until the company purchased the original patent assignee (Agracetus) in 1996. The technology related to the now-revoked patent has been used, along with other patents in the company’s portfolio, to corner 90% of the world’s GM soybean market. [For more information, see ETC Group News Release, "Monsanto’s Soybean Monopoly Challenged in Munich," April 30, 2007 http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=616]
"It’s shameful that it took the European Patent office 13 years to kill Monsanto’s immoral patent, which was ultimately revoked on technical grounds. Though we’re relieved that the species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans both seeds and plants was not allowed to stand, the delay of more than a decade demonstrates just how broken the patent system is. The patent had barely a year to go before expiring!" said Hope Shand, who represented ETC Group in Munich today.
"It was particularly satisfying," said Shand, "that Monsanto’s own blistering 1994 arguments against the patent were ultimately key in defeating it." One of Monsanto’s top scientists testified in 1994 that the genetic engineering process described in the patent was insufficient to allow a skilled scientist to replicate the procedure a necessary criterion for patentability.
ETC Group, which first challenged the patent in 1994 (as RAFI), was represented in Munich by UK barrister Daniel Alexander and patent attorney Tim Roberts of Brookes Batchellor, LLP.
According to patent attorney Tim Roberts, "It is very satisfying that the European Appeal Board has completely revoked this patent. This decision sends a message to greedy patentees don’t claim more than you are entitled to."
Patent expert Dr. Christoph Then of Greenpeace commented on the outcome of today’s hearing, "The EPO’s decision to throw out the patent will have implications for Monsanto and the EPO. It is now shown that the Patent Office is granting patents covering broad sectors of agricultural diversity with no real invention to back them up," said Then.
Ruth Tippe from the European-wide initiative, "No Patents on Life!" asserts, "This is an important step against patents on seeds because it shows that civil society will keep on fighting and can ultimately succeed against powerful multinationals."
According to Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of EcoNexus, "Monsanto’s patent couldn’t even survive on its scientific merits. It was a thoroughly bad patent from both a technical and moral perspective."
Multinational firm Syngenta also made oral arguments today opposing the patent. While their technical expertise may have contributed to the patent’s ultimate downfall, their opposition is viewed by civil society as cynical. In January 2005, ETC Group reported on three Syngenta patent applications that also make breathtakingly broad claims multi-genome patents with claims on gene sequences that extend to 40 plant species. Despite assurances from Syngenta that the company would let the patents lapse, all three applications appear to be active still at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). [See ETC Group Communiqué, "Syngenta The Genome Giant?" January/February 2005 http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?id=73]
This isn’t ETC Group’s first successful battle against species-wide patents. Most notably, another Agracetus patent this one granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office in 1992 and claiming all genetically engineered cotton varieties was eventually revoked in India and the US in 1994.
Other overly broad, unjust patents have yet to be revoked, however. The formal challenge to the notorious "Enola Bean" patent, US Patent No. 5,894,079, granted on a yellow bean genetically identical to a pre-existing Mexican bean variety, has entered its seventh year. [See ETC Group Genotype, "Whatever Happened to the Enola Bean Patent Challenge?" 21 December 2005 http://www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/41/01/genotypeenola05.pdf]
Note to editors: The final wording of today’s ruling by the EPO appeals board will not be released for several more weeks.
For further information:
ETC Group (Carrboro, NC, USA)
Tel: +1 919 960-5223
ETC Group (Ottawa, Canada)
Tel: +1 613 2412267
ETC Group (Montreal, Canada)
Tel: +1 514 516-5759